West Ham outfox Leicester to stay in promotion places
Championship: West Ham United 3 Leicester City 2
Super Sam Baldock outfoxed the Foxes with a brilliant brace to help the Hammers bag the valiant victory that keeps them in second place in the Championship.
But despite comfortably finding themselves two goals to the good at the interval, thanks to strikes from the former MK Dons striker and Julien Faubert, Sam Allardyce’s side eventually had to fight tooth and nail for this win over a never-say-die Leicester City side.
Andy King pulled one back on the hour and, although Baldock restored the Hammers’ two-goal advantage, the Leicester midfielder also netted a spectacular second to give Big Sam an anxious final quarter-of-an-hour.
West Ham had made two changes from the side that had battled its way to victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Monday evening. Fit-again Robert Green returned between the posts in place of Arsenal’s on-loan Manuel Almunia, who will now head back to the Emirates, while Baldock replaced substitute Papa Bouba Diop in an attacking 4-4-2 formation.
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Kicking off in second-spot, the Hammers created all of the early chances as Mark Noble curled a 20-yard free-kick wide before Faubert let fly with a wayward long-ranger and Abdoulaye Faye saw his header blocked on the line.
On 20 minutes, though, Allardyce’s men duly broke the deadlock, when Noble’s searching through-ball allowed John Carew to send a by-line cross to the far post where Baldock, ghosted behind Lee Peltier to nod the Hammers into the lead with his third goal in four starts for the club.
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And as the visitors frantically tried to regroup, Noble again unlocked the City defence, with another pinpoint, up-field pass that sent the overlapping Joey O’Brien to the by-line and, when the Irishman cut the ball back to a supporting Faubert, the Frenchman thankfully found his shooting boots for only the second time in 97 outings, to send a low 15-yard shot beyond the groping Kasper Schmeichel and into the bottom left-hand corner.
Last weekend’s three-goal home defeat at the hands of Millwall had spelt the end of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s tenure as Foxes’ boss and 14th-placed Leicester made just one change as Darius Vassell came in for substitute Michael Johnson.
Finding themselves two goals down inside those opening 22 minutes, the visitors finally started to threaten as Kevin Nugent stroked the ball across the face of goal, where the stretching Jermaine Beckford just could not get a touch and then Sol Bamba drilled a low 18-yarder inches wide.
Too much backchat from ex-Hammer Paul Konchesky saw him follow Carew into the book, after the towering striker lunged into Sean St. Ledger.
And although West Ham were in the ascendancy, on a personal note the Norwegian’s afternoon got yet worse, when he hobbled away to be replaced by Frederic Piquionne on the half-hour mark.
After Vassell saw an angled effort deflected wide, the pacy former England wide man then found himself upended by the consequently booked O’Brien as he attempted to break from halfway and, with the half drawing to a close, Green bravely smothered Beckford’s point-blank shot to preserve Hammers two-goal lead.
Having been crocked in the dying moments of the opening period, Vassell was replaced by Lloyd Dyer for the start of a second half that soon saw the breaking duo of Piquionne and Faubert thwarted by defensive blocks.
Steve Howard then replaced Beckford and, within minutes of his arrival, the bustling substitute was soon in the thick of things in the Hammers area. After seeing his initial shot cleared, team-mate Richie Wellens quickly crossed the loose ball back towards the far post, where King headed home.
Seconds later, the claret and blue fans amongst a crowd of 30,410 endured an edgy moment as Wellens hit the Boleyn Ground grass as he danced through the home penalty box but there was relief all round, when referee James Linington merely booked him for diving.
With Dyer and Konchesky also trying their luck, these were shaky times for a West Ham side that was losing its stranglehold on the game but, on 70 minutes, Baldock calmed the nerves, when he raced onto Piquionne’s clever flick header and swept the ball beyond the helplessly exposed Schmeichel from ten yards.
Still Leicester were not finished, though, and just four minutes later, King bagged his second goal of the afternoon, too, when he unleashed a simply unstoppable 25-yarder that scorched over Green’s left glove and under the right-hand angle.
Back in the contest once more – and with nothing to lose - Leicester pressed once again and, in a frantic finale substitute James Tomkins nodded onto his own crossbar and Peltier saw his header brilliantly beaten away by Green but thankfully West Ham held on for those three hard-fought points.
Hammers: Green, O’Brien, McCartney, Reid, Faye (Tomkins 66), Collison, Faubert, Noble, Nolan, Baldock (Sears 87), Carew (Piquionne 31). Unused Subs: Boffin, Diop,
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Peltier, Konchesky, St. Ledger, Bamba, Wellens, Vassell (Dyer 46) (Johnson 74), King, Abe, Beckford (Howard 57), Nugent. Unused Subs: Weale, Pantsil.
Booked: Carew (19), O’Brien (40), Konchesky (28), Wellens (64).
Referee: James Linington